My previous post, formatted as a question, couldn’t cover everything. I want to be as balanced as possible. So this post will address some counter-arguments and other aspects of the bigger picture. (Apologies to the few people still following me; this is a lot later than I intended!)
In the debate I referenced earlier (and in his general body of work), Dr. Jordan Peterson is very much against the idea of group guilt, the idea that any individual can be blamed for the sins of any other individual because they share certain characteristics. This is understandable, given his focus on totalitarian regimes that tend to use group guilt as an excuse for genocide. However, as a Christian, I can’t dismiss the idea altogether. This Patheos article gives several good reasons, among them the sacrificial system that I described in my previous post, the one that ceremonially transfers guilt from one individual — or the whole community — to another. The greatest example of this, of course, is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ that treats Him as if He were guilty of the sins of all His people. As I also pointed out in my previous post, there are sacrifices for unintentional sins, meaning that free will is not necessarily part of the equation. (For a secular example, involuntary manslaughter is still illegal and punishable, in spite of the lack of evil intent.)
White privilege is a thornier issue. This video discusses it well (and at length). In a nutshell, it is true that the legacy of racism and slavery still exists today. There are unjust policies and practices that began decades ago, and have had deep and lasting impact on black communities. It would be dishonest to ignore or deny that. If we have directly, even unintentionally, contributed to our black neighbors’ suffering, that is a sin. If we have been in a position to alleviate it and failed to do so, that is a sin (James 4:17). If we have lied about the causes and history of that suffering in order to exonerate ourselves, that is a sin (bearing false witness). What do we do with sin? Christians take it to the cross. We confess it, repent of it (i.e. turn away from it), receive forgiveness from God (and whoever else we have hurt), and then move on to do what is right in the future.
But this is not the politically correct usage of white privilege. In the radically secularized world of the West, humans set themselves up in the place of God. But since we’re not God, we are not omniscient. We have to act on assumptions. Traditionally, the assumption has been the individualistic "innocent until proven guilty". In political correctness, guilt and innocence are assumed without proof simply on the basis of gender or skin color. This is how we wind up with the absurd scenario of a Canadian man being blamed for the racial sins of the United States, because he’s a “mean, mad, white man.” Worse, the assumption is that someone with privilege is so blinded by it that empathy is impossible. Since the privileged have not had the same experience, they couldn’t possibly know how best to help with it, according to this theory. And while it is true that the view from inside a situation can make some things clearer, the view from outside or the bigger picture are also helpful.
Really, the privileged person is caught in a paradox. On the one hand, they are commanded to atone for the sins of their ancestors or the accidental sins they have accrued on the way to success. But on the other hand, when they try to make things right, the cry is "Check your privilege! Your opinions are worthless! Even to assume we need your help is offensive! Shut up and get out of the way! Wait, you’re not saying or doing anything against oppression? You must agree with it! You’re complicit!" And on and on it goes. Regardless of whatever real connections they might have to racism, all white people are lumped together as guilty: rich and poor, educated and uneducated, from movie stars and politicians to retail workers and single mothers. And while it is true that in similar situations, a black person and a white person will probably experience them differently — well, the same is true for people of the same race. Looking around my own circle of white, married, Christian women, I can see a huge variety of experiences, privileges, and struggles. Some have enough money to do a lot of traveling; I don’t. I have family living close by; some don’t. To assume that the white experience or the black experience is a monolith is, in fact, racist. And many people of color have objected to the assumption that all their struggles are the fault of white people, or societal problems beyond their control. It paints them as helpless, perpetual victims with no hope except for the government’s intervention. (For more about why the government makes a poor savior, see here.)
When I shared the premise of my previous post with my sister, a fellow writer, she was not convinced. Apparently most of the people she hears complaining about “political correctness” are actually complaining about the inconvenience of being polite. Is it really that hard, she asked, to say “Native American” instead of “Indian”? Is it really oppression to ask someone to modify their speech in order to help others feel safe?
A different analogy might help clear this up. We talk about content going “viral”; that is, spreading quickly and far from its source. Ideas, on the other hand, are more like bacteria. They spread and grow, too, but usually more slowly and in the background. We hardly ever notice or think about them, yet they have enormous influence over our health and environment. Also like bacteria, there are “good” and “bad” strains. The good kind keep us healthy and help us deal with the complexity of life, while crowding out the bad kind. Bad strains are those that cause disease, decay, and death.
When political correctness got started — at least, the type my sister refers to — it was a very needed antibiotic. There were serious diseases in Western discourse: rampant racism, up to and including lynchings; blatant sexism, up to and including physical abuse; and jingoism in the guise of patriotism, enabling power-hungry bureaucrats to get away with all kinds of nastiness. Even still today, there are people who will use things like the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel or my previous post as an excuse to be as mean as they want. There are bad ideas out there, dehumanizing and murderous ideas. Sometimes antibiotics are necessary.
But as the bad bacteria began to die off, so did a lot of good bacteria. Legitimate ideas, like the actual differences between the sexes, were stifled. The surviving bad ones mutated into super bugs, far less susceptible to antibiotics (such as the virulent alt-right that despises PC so much). And while society is still sick, its doctors (the educational and political leaders) continue to prescribe antibiotics for every little sniffle. Meanwhile, those who promote the probiotic of free speech are accused of peddling the super bug. It’s much clearer in the big coastal cities than in our more or less rural Midwest setting. But even here, the lymph system of the internet carries the antibiotic and its side effects. The patient is very uncomfortable. I want a second opinion.
Fear and punishment
The premise of the original Munk debate was “What you call political correctness, I call progress.” I’ll freely admit that there has been progress in getting people to recognize the humanity of those who are unlike them. And I’ll grant that some of that progress has come from forcing people to share spaces and hear each other’s voices, like squabbling siblings stuffed into one shirt until they can get along. But the current state of political correctness — the kind we’re discussing here — is not about recognizing each other’s humanity. It’s about celebrating people’s actions and ideologies, and showing remorse for not having celebrated them enough in the past. Take the case of the Masterpiece Cake Shop for one example. Jack Phillips never denied the humanity of his gay customers. On the contrary, he was generous and kind, offering to sell them any blank cake from his inventory. But they demanded that he use his artistic talents to explicitly celebrate an action that he deems morally repugnant. Is he wrong about gay marriage? It doesn’t matter. Forced speech won’t change the way he thinks.
In the debate, Mr. Dyson mentioned the NFL protests started by Colin Kaepernick. When those were blowing up the internet, a thoughtful writer at the National Review reminded conservatives that forced patriotism is not patriotism at all. In much the same way, our courts recognize that a forced confession is not valid. Someone will say or do almost anything with a gun to their head, or with an angry mob at their heels. Imagine if, as some demanded, Colin Kaepernick had been threatened with punishment until he saluted the flag. Imagine if he had been forced even to wave a flag, wearing a MAGA hat, in front of an audience of white police officers. Would anyone believe that his heart was in it? Would anyone believe that he truly loved America?
Jesus’ disciple John wrote a lot about love, of God and of other people. One profound truth is found in 1 John 4:18 (ESV): “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Political correctness has to do with fear and punishment. It’s not just about punishing the bullies among the police, or the abusers in Hollywood (who absolutely should be punished). It’s creating a climate where everyone is a potential enemy, offender or accuser. People live in constant fear of punishment. And rightfully so, in some sense. All of us are guilty of something. All have sinned. So what do we do with that sin and guilt? Blaming it on others won’t help; they’ve got enough sins of their own without the burden of ours. Trying to placate the judges with constant confession and sacrifice won’t help, either. None of us could ever do enough. We need a final sacrifice, a great High Priest who can perfectly represent us, and a supernatural power to love even our enemies. All of this is only found in Jesus Christ.